Akira Kurosawa’s Waga seishun ni kuinashi reflects Japan’s early postwar uncertainty as to its future—although, in fact, the film begins in 1933 and is based on an actual incident.
The protagonist is Yukie Yagihara (Setsuko Hara, phenomenal). Her father (Denjiro Okochi, also brilliant), a Kyoto University professor, is discharged for his opposition to his nation’s fascism; he advocates freedom of speech. Ruykichi Noge, one of his students, is imprisoned for radicalism and released. In 1941, in Tokyo, where she lives independently and works, Yukie and Ruykichi, reacquainted, become lovers. After Ruykichi dies in prison, likely killed, for antiwar espionage, Yukie moves in with Ruykichi’s parents in their shack in an impoverished rural village. She wins them over with difficulty, proving her determination to honor their son’s memory by committing herself to the task of planting the family’s rice paddies. However, regarding her as a traitor, the neighbors destroy these; persevering, she replants. (Scenes of labor in the fields are indebted to silent Soviet cinema.) Yukie has found meaning to life; she is dedicated to her new family, her new community.
We watch grow Yukie’s self-determination—Kurosawa’s rebuke to Japanese authoritarianism. The influences on her “rebirth” are an interesting mix. Ruykichi, whose motto, “No regrets for my youth,” she adopts, is the clearest; but one must also recall that her father, after losing his teaching post, “remade” himself by providing legal counsel at no charge to fellow citizens. Finally, there is another one of her father’s students, Itokawa, who exchanges his radicalism for conformity in order to appease his mother and becomes a state prosecutor. Itokawa is a negative influence on Yukie, who sees his “safe” path as something to avoid. Yukie evolves into a model of bravery, Stoicism and unselfishness—a modern female samurai.
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